Cruise Ship Survivors Share Stories Both Harrowing and Hopeful

Concordia passenger survivor stories range from the hopeful to the tragic

ByKatie Kindelan
January 16, 2012, 2:56 PM

Jan. 16, 2011 -- Survivors of the wreckage of an Italian cruise ship are describing gritty moments of survival, tentative farewells and heartbreaking loss.

The Titanic-like vignettes emerged from the capsized Costa Concordia which hit a rock just 450 feet from shore on Friday night, took on water and keeled over.

At least six people died and 29 are still missing.

Last Spot On a Lifeboat, and a Hollywood Welcome Home

The cruise aboard the Costa Concordia was Alex Beach's birthday present from her husband, Arthur.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico couple were resting comfortably in their cabin after a day of sightseeing in Rome followed by dinner onboard the ship when disaster struck.

The couple told "Good Morning America" that, at first, passengers were led to believe there was nothing wrong. Then, as the ship began to tilt and the lights went out, there was a mad rush to the ship's life boats, the last line of escape from the sinking vessel.

"It took five tries to get in," Alex Beach said on "GMA." "We kept going to lifeboats and they were already full and people were pushing and shoving and screaming. They were jumping on lifeboats even though they were already full."

"We got to the fifth one," she said. "When we got to where we could get on, I heard someone say there were nine spots left."

The couple's long journey home took them to Barcelona, Spain before they finally made it back safely to the U.S. Once they arrived home in Albuquerque, the couple were greeted with a Hollywood welcome, a message from their nephew, "Modern Family" star Jesse Tyler Ferguson

"When we got home on Sunday evening, we had a message from him," Alex said of her famous nephew.

'I Was Just Waiting for the Band to Start Playing'

Jim Salzburg, his wife, Jo, and their daughter, Mary Jo, of Richmond, Ill., were traveling together aboard the Costa Concordia.

"All of a sudden there was a big thud, a scraping sound and then a thud," Jim Salzburg told ABC affiliate WLS.

When they and other passengers left their cabins, they were told not to worry, it was an electrical problem, Salzburg said.

Then the lights went out, the ship began to list, and the chaos began.

Crew members told the family, whose cabin was on the second deck, to go up to three. On three, they were told to go to four. On four, they were told to go to five, Salzburg said.

"I said, Wait a minute," Jim Salzburg said.

There were "people running up and down the stars panicking, people passing out, nobody there to help," said Mary Jo Salzburg. "So we just figured, we have to do this on our own."

Passengers were told to go to their muster stations, but no one knew where they were, the Salzburgs said, adding a safety drill was scheduled for the following day.

Two hours after the thud, the call was passed down to abandon ship, the family said, but crew members apparently had little training in how to operate the lifeboats, they said.

"My mom had difficulty walking and she just kept saying, 'I can't do this, I can't do this,' and I'm like, 'We've gotta do this. We've gotta do this,'" said Mary Jo Salzburg.

After the family's lifeboat hit the water, Jim Salzburg shot video from the lifeboat.

Jim Salzburg said the ship's captain "should be responsible for those people that died," and that he should "absolutely" face criminal charges.

Salzburg likened the Costa Concordia to the Titanic.

"It was the same type of deal - the ship is listing and people are running for lifeboats. I was just waiting for the band to start playing," said Salzburg.

Husband Sacrifices His Life to Save His Wife

One of the six persons to die on the Concordia did so in order to save his wife.

"I owe my life to my husband," Nicole Servel, 61, whose husband, Francis, gave her the only life jacket they had, told AFP.

PHOTOS: Cruise Ship Runs Aground Off Italy

"He said to me 'jump, jump'. And as I don't know how to swim, he gave me his life jacket. I was hesitant about jumping. So he went first. Then I jumped. I floated on my back," she told RTL radio.

The cruise had been a gift from the French couple's children in celebration of Nicole's 60th birthday.

"I called to him. He shouted back: 'Don't worry! I'll be all right.' The water was barely eight degrees. And then, I never saw him again," she said.

Servel told RTL she was in the water until she was washed up against some rocks from where villagers rescued her and took her to a church to recover in the warmth.

"There was no one to save my husband... We were alone," she said of the captain and crew's abandonment of their ship's passengers.

Lifeboat Becomes Lifeline for Marriage

Australian miner Rob Elcombe and his wife, Tracey Gunn, told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper they booked a spot on the Concordia as a last ditch effort to save their marriage.

Instead, the couple found themselves trying to save their lives when they boarded the very last lifeboat to leave the ship with survivors.

"This has made our bond much, much stronger," Elcombe told the paper. "Who needs couples counseling, when you survive a Titanic experience?"

Honeymoon Turns Into Titanic-Like Story

"It was every man for himself," Emily Lau, a passenger from Boston on board the Costa Concordia, said today on "Good Morning America." "The main thing is no one knew how to help because they were never trained. That is the cruise ship's fault."

Lau, 27, was on board the Costa Concordia luxury liner with her husband of 14 days, Benji Smith, 34, to celebrate their honeymoon with a cruise along the Mediterranean.

Lau and Smith joined a handful of passengers in making a last minute escape from the sinking ship by tying a rope and sheets into knots that they then used as a ladder to lower themselves them down to the bottom of the ship's hole, where they were eventually rescued by a lifeboat.

"We had to improvise. There was no instruction," Smith said. "No one was telling us what to do."

iPad App Tells Couple It's Time to Jump

Mark and Sarah Plath of Little Rock, Ark., awoke to an announcement just before 11 p.m. saying there was a power outage but not to worry about it. Using their iPhone's level app, the couple soon discovered the ship was tilting 23 degrees. When they went outside, they found about 500 people on the fourth floor deck.

PHOTOS: Inside the Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Tragedy

"We were trying to get outside," Mark Plath told ABC News. "People had children with them, people were pushing, people were yelling, people were pushing back. It was difficult to stay in control because so many people were upset."

"We were moving really fast and so Mark said, 'We've got to jump,'" Sarah Plath said. The couple jumped and swam to nearby rocks.

Crew Member Posts to Facebook Before Rescue

Rose Metcalf, a 23-year-old Briton working as a dancer on the ship, turned to her computer when she did not think she would make it out of the ship alive.

"My name is Rose, it's Friday the 13th and I'm one of the last survivors still on board the sinking cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Pray for us to be rescued," she wrote in a post to her mom on Facebook.

British media report Metcalf and her boyfriend, an engineer on the ship, climbed the sinking ship's railings and lashed themselves to a pole with a water hose to avoid falling.

"By the end there were about five of us, and we were the last to get off," she told BBC television, according to the UK Telegraph.

Magician Escapes Coffin Just in Time

Rosalyn Rincon, a 30-year-old magician's assistant, found herself stuck inside a magician's trick box when the Concordia hit the rocks.

"She was in the middle of magic show [when it ran aground], inside a magic box. And then all the lights went out so she struggled to get out of the box," Rincon's mother, Claire Rincon, told BBC News.

Rincon, who suffered cuts and bruises but managed to escape both the coffin and the ship safely, called her mom as the ship was keeling over.

"Rosalyn was a bit hysterical, saying the ship was sinking. But seeing she's a dancer and they do drama, I just thought it was all a bit surreal," she said. "You don't hear about big ships sinking like that nowadays…"

Couple Calls Home to Finalize Will, Say Goodbye to Kids

Irish couple Seamus and Carol Moore phoned home to the friend watching their three kids as they watched lifeboats pass them by from the cruise ship, which they took to celebrate Carol's 50th birthday.

"I told my friend that my will was with my solicitor and to make sure that my kids were looked after," Seamus Moore told the Irish Mail. "At that point we didn't know what way it was going to go."

"We told him to tell the kids that we loved them but asked him not to tell our daughter Claire what was going on unless the worst happened – because she had an exam to sit the following morning," he said.

ABC News' Kevin Dolak, Lama Hasan, Phoebe Natanson and Clark Bentson contributed to this report.

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